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How To Fail at Awareness

I don't need to make anyone aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Our annual descent into all things pink to remind the populace that women (and men, although this is usually lost in the messages) get breast cancer.  And we should get our mammograms, do our monthly breast exams, and support women who have been diagnosed with this awful disease.

It's a great idea, and whoever thought it up gets a major high five.  Unfortunately, we've turned this idea on its head and the message is often upsetting, distasteful, and demeaning to women living with breast cancer, or who are survivors.

I don't claim to speak for anyone who lives with this diagnosis, but I have listened to several of them who actually hate October, the color pink, and most of the "awareness" campaigns.  I use quotes around that word because the aim to truly raise awareness of what breast cancer is has been lost in a sea of pink merchandise and marketing gimmicks.  Take the pink drill bit:

I completely understand that these ad campaigns produce revenue for various breast cancer organizations, like Susan G Komen, who, in turn, invest millions of dollars in breast cancer research and patient support programs.  But how does this help people understand what living with breast cancer is really like?  I guess the pain that is often endured may be something like being drilled by a device designed to cut through layers of limestone?

We've sugar coated breast cancer in a layer of pink bullshit, I mean icing:

The fact of the matter is breast cancer isn't cute, or sweet, or, for the love of all things holy, sexual.

Breast cancer is painful, and messy, and can be really depressing.  Up to a third of women living with breast cancer develop anxiety or depression.  It's devastating for spouses, family, and friends when a loved one is diagnosed.

It's a really uncomfortable topic if you get into the weeds.  Which is what all of these "awareness" campaigns try to buffer the general population from.  The message is "Look I totally want to support breast cancer awareness...but I really don't want to know the details.  So let's keep it light, okay?"

I'm not saying that we need to plaster images of cancerous breasts, people vomiting into buckets from chemotherapy, or radiation burns at the 50 yard line.  But we shouldn't shy away from these realities, either.  The message to those going through the diagnosis, treatments, and prognoses is a lack of respect.  Not everyone survives with their breasts in tact, so having a 30 foot bra in the middle of Daley Plaza in Chicago is a lovely reminder for those who've had mastectomies that they've somehow failed, or are less of a woman:

Not everyone survives, either.  Yet discussions about metastatic breast cancer are non-existent for the most part.

So what can we do to truly be more aware of what breast cancer is?  If you know someone who has breast cancer, talk to them and listen to their stories.  Even the uncomfortable stuff, if they're willing to share it with you.  If you don't have this relationship, read blogs of people who live with it.  Follow them on Twitter (@annmarieg4@AdamsLisa, and @ReneeCancerLand are good ones).

Do a Google image search of breast cancer; mixed among the pink ribbons are real images of what breast cancer does.

Update your Facebook status with a breast cancer statistic, a link to self-exams, or a blog entry that really hits home rather than the color of your underwear or whatever the hell this year's offensive campaign is.  Donate money to the American Cancer Society, Avon Walk, or Gilda's Club.

Get outside of the comfort zone of the pink crap.  People living with breast cancer will thank you for it.

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